Clemson University mourns the loss of Col. Ben Skardon, Class of 1938. Col. Skardon, U.S. Army (Ret.), was a familiar and beloved figure among the Clemson Family. Skardon passed away on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, at the age of 104, days after being informed of the approval of his honorary promotion to the rank of Brigadier General.
Col. Skardon will lie in honor at Clemson Memorial Park next to the Scroll of Honor on Thursday, November 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Following his graduation from Clemson in 1938, he served in World War II as the commander of Company A of the 92nd Infantry Regiment PA (Philippine Army), a battalion of Filipino Army recruits on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines. He led his troops through some of the fiercest fighting of the conflict, earning the Combat Infantryman Badge, two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star with “V” device, and a Purple Heart during the first four months of the war.
On April 9, 1942, he became a prisoner of war when American troops were forced to surrender to the Japanese. He then endured one of the most notorious war crimes in history: The Bataan Death March.
Skardon survived the march and more than three years as a POW, despite becoming deathly ill. Two fellow Clemson alumni, Henry Leitner and Otis Morgan, kept him alive by spoon-feeding him and eventually trading his gold Clemson ring — which he had managed to keep hidden — for food. Leitner and Morgan did not survive the war. Their story is now told at every Clemson Ring Ceremony.
As WWII came to an end, Skardon also survived the sinking of two unmarked Japanese transport ships carrying him and other POWs to mainland Japan. Russian units finally freed him in August 1945. He went on to serve in Korea from 1951-52 and retired from the Army at the rank of colonel in 1962.
In 1964 he returned to his alma mater, joining the Clemson faculty in the Department of English, where he taught for more than 20 years until his retirement in 1985.
In 2006, at the age of 88, Skardon became the only survivor to walk in the annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. He walked more than eight miles and returned to walk 12 more times, the last when he was 101. He came to consider it a pilgrimage, and his duty to walk in honor of his brothers-in-arms who did not return from the war. When the COVID pandemic forced the cancelation of the New Mexico event in 2020, a team of students, veterans, alumni and friends created the Clemson 8 Challenge to honor eight Clemson alumni who survived the Bataan Death March and carry on Skardon’s mission of honoring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Skardon, then 103, walked more than three miles for the event, which raises money for ROTC scholarships.
Among his numerous accolades, Skardon received the Clemson Medallion, the Alumni Distinguished Service Award, the Alumni Master Teacher Award, the Order of the Palmetto, and a Congressional Gold Medal.
In 2006 the Col. Beverly N. Skardon ’38 Clemson Corps Endowment was established to benefit ROTC cadets, and in 2013 the Col. Beverly N. “Ben” Skardon Clemson Ring Endowment was established to fund the Clemson Ring Ceremony. The flagpole in Memorial Stadium was dedicated to him in 2016.
For those who would like to donate in support of Col. Skardon, the University has created the Col. Beverly “Ben” Skardon, 38 Clemson Corps Endowment. Gifts can be made here: iamatiger.clemson.edu/remembering/skardon.
From Clemson’s Leaders